For the last three years a Lechlade charity has been making a difference to school children in Nepal. Charlotte Shepherd meets the founders of Nepal Schools Aid.
IT WAS the death of a son to cancer in 1997 that triggered a chain of events leading to Lechlade residents Dr Brian Metters, 64 and Dr Champa Metters, 65, setting up the charity Nepal Schools Aid.
A memorial fund for 22-year-old Mike Metters raised over £300,000 and when the money was shared out between cancer charities and a charity in Nepal, a sum of money remained. "As we approached retirement we decided we had to do something with that money," explained Dr Brian Metters.
Nepal was the obvious choice for a charity as Dr Champa Metters is Nepalese. "There are so many areas that are impoverished in Nepal, but we decided to set up an education charity because Champa was a teacher."
When Nepal Schools Aid was set up in 2007 the initial plan was to hand out exercise books and school bags to 11 schools in Kathmandu.
"We bought 22,000 exercise books and selected the poorest schools in the capital," explained Dr Brian Metters.
However, from small beginnings the charity has now come to the attention of the Ministry of Education in the country and is looking to shake up the entire education system.
Because of corruption in Nepal the charity decided that it would only provide goods and services directly to the schools and never money.
The charity now focuses on six schools, which teach many of the children from the "untouchable" caste in Nepal. "There is still a lot of discrimination in Nepal with a caste system. The lowest caste children are not allowed in the best schools in Nepal," said Dr Champa Metters.
By 2009 the charity had identified that it was not just materials that these schools were lacking. "We realised that the quality of teaching in the schools was not up to scratch," said Dr Brian Metters.
Before retirement Dr Champa Metters, who was the first woman from Nepal to gain a PhD, was a teacher at Cirencester Deer Park and latterly at Farmor's school. "I see education as crucial," she said. "It is vital that schools out there improve."
The couple began talking to teachers from schools in Cumbria, where Dr Brian Metters comes from, about the possibility of them volunteering to train teachers in Nepal.
Five volunteers including a headteacher gave up their time during the Easter holidays last year to visit Nepal and hold a two-day teacher training course for 40 teachers from the charity's schools. "It was very hard work for all concerned," said Dr Champa Metters. "And it was an eye opener for Nepalese teachers."
The charity now provides advice on school leadership and governance to schools in Kathmandu, a programme of teacher training for around 120 teachers on an annual basis and a curriculum has been created for schools to follow.
Not bad for a charity that relies on voluntary donations, small grants from supportive employers and individual fundraising efforts such as the climbs led by Dr Brian Metters to Everest base camp.
Nepal's Ministry of Education is now monitoring closely the outcomes of the charity to see if their programme can be rolled out to other schools in Nepal.
This is a vital part of the charity's aims. "We are different from other charities because we are aiming at sustainability," explained Dr Brian Metters. "Our aim is to make these schools the best there are in Kathmandu but we plan to walk away at some point. We want the Ministry of Education to buy into the whole approach and incorporate it into their own teacher training programme. This charity will come to an end and the hope is that we will leave a legacy."
* To read more or find out how you can donate funds to the charity visit their website at www.nepalschoolsaid.co.uk